The Magazine

Twits on Parade

Twittering is the newest of the new media. And the worst.

Oct 20, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 06 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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Maybe you've noticed: These political blogs can be so gabby. Yap yap yap. You go to some website--democretin.com, republicreep.net, whatever--and there will be a new post for you to read, and the blogger goes on for one, two, sometimes three paragraphs, and each paragraph is a huge heap of sentences, two sentences long or even more, and you just want them to get to the point. This is a blog post, not Middlemarch, is what you want to say.

That's why God invented Twitter--God or whoever. Twitter is for people who find the pace of blogs too sleepy, the content too wordy, the whole blog thing way, way too 2005. It's an Internet service and a new form of communication that's about to transform political commentary in much the way blogs have, just as decisively, just as permanently. That's what I hear, anyway. CNET News, a respectable source of news about the Internet, if you can imagine such a thing, says this:

If the 2004 elections hailed the debut of bloggers and the 2006 mid-term elections were when YouTube popped onto the scene, it's looking like 2008 will be the election cycle where Twitter sped to the forefront of the political Web. .  .  . The microblogging site has proven to be a must-use tool for opinionated news junkies and aspiring pundits.

"Micro" is the key to Twitter blogging. Twitter is based on the tiny. Communication on Twitter happens in real time, instantaneously, without that an-noying lag time between the moment when the blogger thinks of something to write and the moment when the reader reads it. On traditional blogs this can often take as much as a minute--an eternity. More important, each post on Twitter can be no longer than 140 characters. Try writing Middlemarch in 140 characters.

Here's how it happens. Let's say you're an aspiring twit. You go to www.Twitter.com and create an account. This gives you your own Twitter homepage. You now have access to the 2.5 million people who also have Twitter accounts and who, in turn, now have access to yours. You type your microblog item on either the keypad of your cell phone or the keyboard of your computer. The item is called a "tweet," in keeping with the Romper Room vernacular of the Internet. The tweet appears instantly on your Twitter page. It will also appear on the Twitter page of everyone who's signed up to have your tweets appear on their Twitter page. At the same time, you get to read the tweets of all the twits whose messages you have signed up to read. Those tweets show up on your Twitter page too. There can be hundreds of these if you want, scrolling across your computer or cell phone screen as your messages are endlessly updated, a lava flow of one-sentence messages.

It's an ingenious way of keeping in touch, particularly for people who need to expose as much of their lives to public scrutiny as possible. The number of such people is very large, as you may have noticed. Sometimes blogs are just too cumbersome. Suppose you need to go to the bathroom. Is it really worth the trouble of posting this information on your regular blog? Maybe .  . .  but maybe not. With Twitter, you can just tap your bladder's condition into your cell phone--"got to hit the head"--and everyone you know, and many whom you don't know, can read about it instantly.

The same goes for every event in your life. When written up and broadcast as a tweet, each insignificant brain burp, your mildest reaction to events, every minor piece of news, takes on a kind of importance that it wouldn't have otherwise; suddenly, thanks to the power of Twitter, it seems to be more consequential than it would ever have been thought to be in any earlier age in human history. That delicious falafel you just ate; the chunk of chick pea that got caught in your teeth; your curiosity about that awesome tattoo on the cute counterguy who took your order--all can now pass through your consciousness and be placed on public display nearly simultaneously. It's like you're being turned inside out. The fulfillment of a dream.

The Twitter service is only two years old, but it didn't take long for people to figure out its political uses. Everybody has political opinions--you may have noticed this, too--and it's now become an article of faith that everyone's political opinions are of equal value and equally worthy of attention, at least so long as they're similar to yours. Twitter has become a roiling stream of political commentary, unimaginably quick and .  .  . well, pithy isn't the right word. Tweets are extremely short but seldom pithy. Blunt, maybe. Uncomplicated always.